Pensacola Picnic Spots
We can pack a picnic for you but it’s up to you to fill your day with memories. Where to make them? Lucky for you, we know all the best picnic spots on the beach … and beyond.
Fort Pickens is a historical treasure beloved both by locals and visitors to Pensacola Beach. Located at the western point of Santa Rosa Island, the park fee will secure your entrance for a carload and give you access for a week. The pentagonal fort was completed in 1834 and used until 1947, standing guard over the Pensacola harbor from the Mexican-American War through post World War II. Geronimo was imprisoned here, and some suggest that the first shots by American soldiers during the Civil War were fired on these shores. Fort Pickens is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, protected by the National Park Service, so in addition to armaments, you will see pristine, unbridled beaches – wild with tall pines. You will love exploring the fort’s winding tunnels and pose for photos beneath its fine archways. Sunset is remarkable from atop the fort, which is a nice spot for a picnic, along with the wall overlooking the Pensacola Bay and the Naval Air Station just across the water.
Casino Beach or Pensacola Beach Boardwalk
For the finest people watching on the island, head to Casino Beach – or the Pensacola Beach Boardwalk across the street. Casino Beach, behind the parking lot that is home to the big beach ball water tower, takes its name from The Casino that stood on these sands from the 1930s to 60s. But it didn’t host gambling. Rather, it was a place for dancing, bathing, boxing and beauty pageants. Today, Casino Beach is bustling with activity. So if you want to be in the middle of the action, this is the picnic spot for you. Just across the street is the Pensacola Beach Boardwalk, where you can grab a spot in the sand overlooking the Santa Rosa Sound. Walk from store to store after your picnic, and pose for a photo in the giant seashell in the middle of the boardwalk. (Note: these spots are not terribly quiet or romantic, so continue reading if that’s what you’re after.)
Gulf Islands National Seashore
To the east of Pensacola Beach is a gorgeous stretch of highway lined with miles of white sand dunes, the Santa Rosa Sound to the North and the Gulf of Mexico to the South. To get there, drive east on Via de Luna (turn right out of the hotel) until you stop seeing buildings on either side. Look for a free spot in one of the public parking lots along the way, and walk to whichever beach you choose. (It’s best not to park on the side of the road, as it is sometimes illegal and often will get your car stuck in the soft sand.) This is unspoiled territory, quiet and starkly pretty. There are dune hikes you can take here, before or after you unpack your picnic. Perfect for romantics or families seeking a beautiful beach without the crowds.
The public beaches at the foot of the bridge from Pensacola Beach to Gulf Breeze are the beach of choice among local parents, favored for their calm and shallow waters – ideal for little swimmers. There are covered pavilions for picnicking if you prefer not to sit in the sand or stay out of the sun, but they fill up quickly during the busy summer months. Good thing our picnic package comes with a blanket for spreading out on our sugar white sands.
Naval Live Oaks
Prior to the Civil War, the wood of the live oak tree was a favorite among shipbuilders. So the Navy purchased a tract of land to cultivate the trees, where this nature preserve now stands just across the beach bridge in Gulf Breeze. On the south side of Highway 98, you’ll find a visitor center and museum … as well as an elevated walking trail marked with local flora and fauna, and public beaches perfect for picnicking.
Pensacola Lighthouse at NAS
Naval Air Station Pensacola is home to a lovely lighthouse you can climb (177 stairs up) for one of the best views in town. Pack your picnic and head onboard NAS to visit the Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum. Be advised, children under 44 inches cannot make the climb, but there’s still plenty to see. (You also cannot wear flip-flops, stiletto heels or wet clothing to tour the lighthouse. So take your swim after.) After you eat your picnic lunch, head just across the street to the National Naval Aviation Museum, where you can view more than 150 immaculately restored aircraft or ride flight simulators including the Blue Angels X4D Experience. But maybe you shouldn’t fly on a full stomach.
Head to Downtown Pensacola for many more picnic places, including Palafox Pier. When you cross over the 3-mile bridge into town, stay along the Bayfront Parkway, then turn left at Palafox, the main drag of our historic downtown. At the end, you’ll come to a grassy spot, where you can picnic and watch the boats go by in the bay. There’s also a splash pad for the kids, so let them wear their swimsuits. Want to grab a drink and watch the sunset? Jaco’s Bayfront Bar & Grille is a great place for cocktails overlooking the marina.
Also located downtown is Seville Square, a large grassy park downtown, with a covered pavilion and swing sets. Long ago in the 1500s, this was the center of the site of America’s first settlement by Spanish explorers. Today, it is home to many festivals and events – including Evenings in Seville Square concerts every summer and the Gulf Coast Arts Festival every fall. The summer concerts take place on Thursdays, a perfect venue for a picnic supper.
Officially named Plaza Ferdinand VII after the King of Spain, this garden and park is in the heart of downtown and even serves as the site of the New Year’s Eve Pelican Drop, when a giant lighted pelican signals the start of a New Year. Local restaurants and shops are nearby, so it’s a great place to picnic and then explore. You’ll notice several interesting monuments here, from the bust of Andrew Jackson (he was sworn in as territorial governor here) to the Chipley obelisk (named for railroad tycoon and statesmen William Dudley Chipley). Just across the street you’ll find the T.T. Wentworth Jr. Florida State Museum, with the Pensacola Children’s Museum just a block away – providing an afternoon of educational and fun entertainment for families.
Just over the bridge into Pensacola is a quaint neighborhood called East Hill. There, on Bayou Texar, sits Bayview Park – with views of the water, a large playground for the kids, tennis courts and more. Eat your picnic on the dock, on a bench or in the grass. Bayview is very family friendly, and the surrounding streets are lovely for walking, biking or jogging.